Beets are both sweet and earthy tasting and pair well with other root vegetables as well as with tangy-sweet fruits like pineapple. While most beets are deep red in color, there are a number of beet varieties that range in color from white to yellow to red. There’s even one variety, known as the Chioggia beet, which has red and white concentric rings.
Beets come to us from the Chenopodiaceae family and are related botanically to spinach. In fact, one variety of beets is known as the spinach, or leaf beet. It is grown for its greens, which are actually more nutritious than the root itself.
Selection, Storage & Cooking
Beets are available both canned and fresh at your grocer’s market. However, fresh beets are considered to be crispier and more flavorful. If you’re shopping for fresh beets, choose smaller beets over larger, tougher beets, and pass over any beets that are cracked, shriveled or look very dry. If the beet greens are still attached to the root, they should be crisp-looking and not at all wilted or slimy.
Baby beets are available in some specialty and farmer’s markets and are considered a delicacy for their tenderness and delicate flavor.
Once your beets are home, you can refrigerate them in a perforated plastic bag, separate from the greens, for up to three weeks. Greens will only last for a few days in the refrigerator and should be used right away. Wash both the roots and leaves before using to remove any soil still clinging to them.
You can either enjoy your beets raw on salads or sandwiches or cook them in any variety of ways, including boiling, baking, sautéing with other vegetables, or even pickling. Beets should be cooked with their peel on to preserve nutrients and to prevent their deep red color from leaking out, which turns them brown, making them unappetizing in appearance. You should also leave about half an inch of the stem on while cooking so that the pigment doesn’t leak out of the top.
Adding an acidic food to the pot can also help preserve the color of the beets. Both lemon juice and vinegar work well for this purpose. Once your beets are done cooking, peel the skin off while wearing gloves, unless you don’t mind having your hands stained a deep red.
Nutritional BenefitsBeets are a great source of folate, the b-vitamin known for its role in preventing birth defects in growing fetuses. The root of the beet is also a good source of iron, potassium and magnesium, although an abundance of nutrition actually lies in its leafy greens.
A half-cup of beet greens, cooked, supplies upwards of 92% of your daily need for vitamin A (as beta-carotene). Beet greens are also higher in potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 than the root. However, if it’s the folate you’re after, stick with the root, which supplies 17% of the RDA for this nutrient; beet greens only offer 2.5%.
Here are nutritional facts for one-half cup of beets:
- Calories: 37
- Fat: 0
- Carbohydrates: 8g (2g dietary fiber)
- Protein: 1g
- Nutrients and RDAs: 20mg magnesium (6%-7%); 32mg phosphorus (4.5%); 1mg iron (10%); 3mg vitamin C (5%); 68mcg folate (17%) and 259mg potassium (8%-13%). There is no RDA for potassium, but adults need about 2,000-3,000mg a day.
Ready to serve up some nutritious beets?
Sometimes beets in the market have beautiful, unblemished, tender greens attached. When that happens, blanch the greens and toss with beans and vinaigrette, using some of the beets to garnish the salad, as in this recipe. Use the leftover cooked beets for other dishes. If you buy beet greens on their own, you can make the salad just with them. Either way is delicious.
Beets & Greens Salad with Cannellini Beans
- 2 bunches beets with unblemished greens, or 8 cups lightly packed beet greens
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, or 2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves, minced
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 15-ounce or 19-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed
- 1/4 cup thinly slivered red onion, (1/2 small onion)
If using beets, preheat oven to 400°F. Cut greens from beets, leaving about 1 inch of stem attached; reserve about 8 cups greens, lightly packed. Wash and dry the beets. Wrap in foil and roast until tender, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size. (Alternatively, place beets in a microwave-safe dish, add 1/4 cup water, cover and microwave on high for 20 to 25 minutes.) When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel 4 of them and cut into 1/2-inch wedges. You should have about 2 cups. Place in a medium bowl. (Reserve the remaining beets for another use.)
Using a mortar and pestle or the side of a chef’s knife, mash garlic and salt into a paste. Transfer to a large bowl. Add vinegar and whisk to blend. Add oil, oregano and pepper, whisking until blended. Measure out 1 tablespoon and add to the beet wedges; toss to coat. Add beans to the remaining dressing and toss to coat. Let marinate at room temperature until ready to use.
Place onion in a small bowl, cover with cold water and add a handful of ice cubes; let stand for 10 minutes, or until ready to use.
Meanwhile, bring 2 cups lightly salted water to a boil in a large wide pan. Wash beet greens in several changes of water; trim the stems. Add the greens to boiling water, cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well, pressing on the greens with the back of a spoon to remove excess moisture. Cut into 1-inch pieces.
Drain the onion. Add to the beans along with greens; toss to coat. Spoon the salad onto a serving platter or individual plates and garnish with the beets, if using. Serve immediately.
Soaking the onion in ice water for 10 minutes or more renders it less pungent and more crisp.